In Part I, I discussed the central concern animating my vision for the future direction of teaching and learning Greek: in light of the digital resources available it is increasingly difficult to say that traditional approaches to teaching are meeting the aims and needs to two different types of learners–the Pragmatist Greek Learners and the Serious Greek Learners. To summarize, I feel that Pragmatist Greek Learners are being under-served in being pushed to acquire a weak knowledge of Greek that does not well-prepare them for using digital tools that are available. Having a shaky knowledge of a verbal paradigm (and even shakier knowledge of what that type of verb might or might not actually signify) is of little value if you are able to look it up more accurately and quickly than you would remember it and your intention is not to become an actual reader of Greek. In this post I would like to consider what I am calling the Serious Greek Learners.
The Serious Greek Learners are those whose aspiration is to become readers of Greek (not just able to follow a commentary about the Greek text or use a reader’s edition or use bible software, but actually read the Greek text and understand it as Greek). This group is, in my experience, the minority of those who are learning Greek in the seminary context. It is a lot easier to aspire to the vague goal of “knowing Greek” than it is to aspire to and pursue the goal of being able to read extensive amounts of Greek text without recourse to lexicons, grammars, and software at every step along the way. The needs of these learners are really quite different from the needs of the Pragmatist Greek Learners. The Greek learning experience of Pragmatist Greek Learners should be centered around understanding and effectively using digital resources available. By contrast, Serious Greek Learners need to be pushed to engage with extensive amounts of Greek text and engagement with digital tools should be held off until they are well on their way to a solid knowledge of the language.
In a traditional course of education in the seminary context (as far as my experience goes), there is limited engagement with extensive amounts of Greek, and little push to acquire the skills necessary to get there. One obvious reason for this is that both types of learners are grouped together in traditional classes, so to keep the majority of the class from failing, the aims of the education are targeted more at the Pragmatist than the Serious Greek Learners, who we hope will somehow make it on their own (hence, why I think the courses really should be split up).
What would a teaching/learning environment that is catering to Serious Greek Learners look like? I’m not sure exactly, but there are many components that would be involved. I will have much more to say about these various components periodically in later posts. Some of the core elements of trying to teach and/or learn Greek for the sake of Greek reading are:
- Minimization of digital tools for as long as is possible/practicable: the presence of an easier alternative to difficult intellectual work which appears to achieve the same outcome will often result in undercutting the long-term gains a learner can have.
- Emphasis on more reading of texts: I’m talking reading a lot of Greek, like an exegesis class of Ephesians where one of the assignments is to read through the text of Ephesians at least 2x per week for the entire course, bare minimum. The goal is to, in many respects, force the learners to engage with more Greek than they are ready to so that they are forced to adopt strategies to cope with engaging Greek texts–they won’t have time to meticulously “translate” or to refer to grammars and lexicons for everything. They will need to learn how to read.
- Emphasis on more vocab: in the future I will have a lot more to say about vocab but, in short, once you know the core grammar of a language, what holds you back in most instances is not lack of grammar but lack of vocab. If you don’t have the grammar of a passage down 100% you can often work it out anyway; if you are missing a key vocab item, you can kiss understanding the text goodbye.
- Emphasis on orality approaches: at the minimum, learners should have a solid grasp of the phonetics of the language (while I would prefer the use of either restored Koine or Modern Greek, any system solidly grasped should be considered a necessity, not a hopeful outcome). This helps to treat the language like a language. There is also some evidence that knowledge of vocabulary, even of dead languages, is inherently phonetic-rich to the point that if you see a word and don’t know how to pronounce it, you do not really know it very well or at all.
Of course, there is much more involved than this brief sketch. The point of Part I and Part II of this post series is simply to lay out the groundwork in my own thinking of what to do in teaching and learning Greek. Because learners can hover their cursor over a word and receive parsing and lexical (and even grammatical) information on the item, things ought to change in the teaching process. Business as usual fails to address the changes in the world around us. Further, it fails (in my view) on two fronts: 1) it does not optimally prepare learners for effective use of computerized tools for interacting with a language that they do not really know (the goals of Pragmatist Greek Learners), and 2) it does not address the needs of those whose actual aim is to read Greek and who need to be engaging with much more Greek (the Serious Greek Learners). Taking both arms of the fork in the road at least provides a framework for thinking about how to teach and learn Greek in this day and age.